When amateur dressage rider PJ Rizvi first came to Wellington in 1999, she was 29 years old and competing in the amateur jumpers at the Winter Equestrian Festival. She had no children and was working on dressage with her jumper to improve her flatwork. It was her friendship with Olympic dressage rider Ashley Holzer that brought her into the fold of the dressage world and kept her a part of it throughout four pregnancies in six years. But it was Wellington and the Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) that gave Rizvi the confidence to ride at the top levels of international sport and the chance to share time and horses with her whole family.
After that first winter competing at WEF, she was back in New York and taking dressage lessons with Holzer, whom she has known since she was 22 years old. But riding was put on hold when she gave birth to her first daughter Yasmin in 2001. With three more children over five years, Rizvi could only ride periodically between pregnancies.
“I showed Fourth Level after child two, Prix St. Georges after child three, and then after child four, I started doing Grand Prix,” she recalled with a laugh. “The kids were starting in ponies, so getting out to White Fences [in Loxahatchee] was difficult. It was hard for me to watch my kids and go do dressage all at the same time.”
When Equestrian Sport Productions planned and broke ground for a new horse show facility to host the AGDF, Rizvi and her husband Suhail signed up to be founding sponsors, and when the circuit started in 2012, it propelled her into the next level of the sport.
“Having the opportunity to show at Global changed things a lot for me because I went from being a very novice amateur rider, and then the very next year, I did my first CDI in Wellington with my old partner Breaking Dawn,” Rizvi said. “I was able to show the CDIs for the next three seasons with him, and I went from being just a mom with no ranking to having a world ranking, which my kids thought was very funny.”
The horse show circuit in Wellington, both jumping and dressage, brought success to the whole Rizvi family. While mom was moving up at AGDF, daughters Yasmin, Farah and Zayna were riding ponies and graduating to the equitation and junior jumper ranks. Farah also took an interest in her mother’s sport and competed in the FEI Pony dressage division at AGDF for multiple seasons.
“It’s great to pursue my passion and do something that I love,” Rizvi said. “I think it has set a good example to my girls, not just with riding but with other aspects of their life, because they realize these things take a lot of commitment and time, but at the end of the day, you just have to love it and enjoy it or it’s not worth it. I think it has been good for them to see their mother have her own passion and interests.”
Rizvi’s horse Breaking Dawn, who competed at the 2012 London Olympic Games with Holzer before Rizvi took over the ride, is 21 years old now and retired. Rizvi and “Edward” won their final class together, the Grand Prix Special CDI3*, at the 2019 AGDF.
“AGDF gave me the opportunity to develop and compete against great riders and have a really great community, and I find that the dressage community as a whole is really friendly and helpful,” she said. “I miss Friday Night Stars more than anything! To have a few thousand people watching you and cheering is just electrifying. You feel like everyone is rooting for you even if you don’t have your best test.”
Rizvi plans to compete at this year’s AGDF when time allows. While Yasmin, 20, is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania and 17-year-old Farah is preparing for college, Zayna, 15, is “all about the jumpers.” Her son Arslan, 13, rode polo for years before making tennis his main sport. Suhail enjoys watching his wife and daughters ride but is also one who will help his wife stay up with a sick horse at night. “He really loves animals,” Rizvi noted. “He thinks it’s fun when they are spunky and do naughty things!”
The Rizvi family enjoy the summers in Wellington ever since they moved full-time from New York in 2015. Takeout and margaritas from Don Chepo’s is a regular occurrence, as is visiting friends in town for cookouts and enjoying the beautiful weather year-round.
Rizvi is closely involved with Polo for Life, a Wellington-based nonprofit that has raised almost $2 million to help support pediatric cancer patients and their families, and focuses on direct impact initiatives by partnering with local organizations to ensure that the needs of patients and their families are met and their financial hardships, resulting from a cancer diagnosis, are minimized.
It’s a cause that is close to Rizvi’s heart, as her sister Penny passed away from leukemia. Yasmin, Farah and Zayna help their mother by soliciting auction items, selling tables to the fundraising event, volunteering and enjoy spending time with the children and their siblings and taking them shopping at Christmas.
It’s a delicate balance of time management for her family, nonprofit work and riding. “I don’t know if there’s a secret,” she said. “I’m extremely organized. Family is the first priority for me. You have to create a balance. It can’t be so all consuming that the only world is horses and you’re not aware of anything else that is going on. My kids are very well-rounded, which is super important. I have always told them that they need to look at riding as a long-term sport.”
For Rizvi, the connection to AGDF is so important because it helped make dressage a lifelong sport for her.
“I didn’t grow up riding. It was something that was made possible for me in the second half of my life that I never thought could happen,” she said. “If it wasn’t here all in one place, in Wellington, I couldn’t have done it.”
That advice rings true when Rizvi looks back at her decades of time with horses, from when she was broke in her 20s and had to ride bareback starting out with her first horse, to her summer competing in CDIs in France and Austria, to this season where, at 50 years old, she will go back to the ring after two years off from international competition.
Those who weather the changes and the years and get the most out of their time with horses come away with a lifetime of memories.
Rizvi and her family will be the first to tell you that their time with horses is worth it, and the best may be yet to come.